Trump Admin Proposes Zero Aid to Tibetan Community

Reversing its decade-old policy, the Trump administration now wants other countries to jump in.

3 min read
Donald Trump. (Photo: AP)

President Donald Trump has proposed zero aid in 2018 to Tibetans, reversing the decades-old American policy of providing financial assistance to the community for safeguarding their distinct identity.

The Trump administration now wants other countries to jump in.

The State Department, which sent the detailed proposal to the Congress as part of Trump's maiden annual budget, described it as one of the “tough choices” that it had to make as its budget itself has been slashed by more than 28 per cent.

‘We Had to Make Some Tough Choices’: State Department

Leaders of the Tibetan community in the US refrained from making comment on the issue, saying they are still reading the budget papers. At the same time, they observed that majority of the assistance to the Tibetan people, including for Tibet, so far have been Congressionally driven.

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has expressed concern over the move.

“Leader Pelosi is very concerned about the zeroing out of aid to the Tibetan community in the Trump budget proposal,” Drew Hammill, spokesman for Pelosi, said.

The State Department, in its budgetary proposal for the fiscal year 2018 beginning 1 October, has removed the decades-old Tibet Fund and has proposed zero dollars against Ngwang Choephel Fellows. Both the categories in 2017 and 2016 had accounted for more than a million dollars.

However, the State Department in its footnote of the budget, said that Special Academic Exchanges, whose budgetary allocation has been reduced from more than $14.7 million in 2017 to just $7 million for 2018, would include funding for programmes such as the Benjamin A Gilman International Scholarship Program, Mobility (Disability) Exchanges, and the Tibet Fund.

As we work to streamline efforts to ensure efficiency and effectiveness of US taxpayers’ dollars, we acknowledge that we have to prioritise and make some tough choices
A State Department official said.

“Focusing our efforts will allow us to advance our most important policy goals and national security interests, while ensuring that other donor countries contribute their fair share towards meeting global challenges,” the official said requesting anonymity.

Move Expected to Face Opposition in Congress

However, the official did not identify the countries that it would like to help continue funding for the Tibetan cause.

“We will continue to engage diplomatically with allies and partners to advance our US national interests and shared policy priorities,” the official said.

Pelosi, who early this month led a high-powered Congressional delegation to Dharamshala to meet the Dalai Lama, has expressed concern over the development.

“As she has said many times, including her visit this month to His Holiness The Dalai Lama in Dharamshala, if the US does not speak out for human rights in China, we lose all moral authority to talk about it elsewhere in the world,” Hammill said.

“That includes critical funding through the State Department for important efforts, like those in support of a genuinely autonomous Tibet, that advance and protect America's interests in the world," Hammill said in response to a question.

The move to abolish Tibet fund is expected to be widely opposed in the Congress. The US policy towards Tibet is currently driven by the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002, which was signed by the last Republican President George W Bush.

Enacted into law on 30 September 2002 as part of the Foreign Relations Authorisation Act, FY2003, it lists its “purpose” as being “to support the aspirations of the Tibetan people to safeguard their distinct identity.” The act establishes in statute the State Department position of United States Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues and states that the Special Coordinator's “central objective” is “to promote substantive dialogue between the Government of the People's Republic of China and the Dalai Lama or his representatives.”

This Comes as a Surprise to Many

Slashing down of the Tibetan funding has come as a surprise to the supporters of the Tibetan cause in the US.

During his confirmation hearing, the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had assured lawmakers about the administration's support for Tibetans.

“Should I be confirmed, while recognising Tibet as part of the People's Republic of China, I will continue to encourage dialogue between Beijing and representatives of Tibet's ‘government in exile’ and/or the Dalai Lama. I will also encourage Beijing and the governments of all nations to respect and preserve the distinct religious, linguistic, and cultural identity of the Tibetan people worldwide,” Tillerson said during his confirmation hearing in February.

Powerful lawmakers in the House of Representatives and the Senate have introduced identical legislations, which if passed, would deny access to the United States by Chinese officials, who are responsible for creating or administering policies on travel to Tibetan areas until China eliminates discriminatory restrictions on access by Americans to Tibet.

Ahead of the 6-7 April US-China Summit, a group of influential lawmakers had urged Trump to raise the issue of Tibet with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

(The article has been edited for length.)

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